16 December 2019
Last month, CoMO members came together in London to attend our 8th Global Conference and celebrate 15 years since the foundation of CoMO. Focusing on the progress made so far in meningitis advocacy and the promising road ahead, this conference was one of our biggest to date, with 46 delegates from 17 different countries attending.
Structured by an intensive agenda, members attended sessions on the following:
An update on CoMO’s global projects, including World Meningitis Day 2020 and the WHO’s Global Roadmap to Defeat Meningitis by 2030.
An interactive and tailored workshop on utilising the CASE model to tackle vaccine hesitancy, delivered by Rekha Lakshmanan of The Immunization Project.
Two tailored trainings from an expert from the Foundation for Social Improvement (FSI) on: 1) Successful Events Fundraising and 2) Volunteer and Trustee Recruitment and Management.
An interactive workshop on effective social media use, delivered by Dr Hephzi Tagoe of GhScientific.
Evenings for networking, where attendees were able to meet old friends and cultivate new friendships over karaoke!Through sharing member stories, ideas, information and resources, our conference delegates forged new connections, rekindled old ones and discovered new ways to develop their organisations.
Sharing stories, ideas and challenges
We opened the Global Conference with an introductory speech from CoMO’s President, Chris Head, and introductions from each organisation. People shared their own personal links to meningitis and the challenges they face in raising awareness. While our members live in very different contexts worldwide, commonalities were clear and meningitis proved to be a global issue with an emotional toll with wide-reaching ramifications, disrupting families and whole communities. The advocacy and support roles undertaken by our members are essential and yet, worldwide, they face notable constraints such as funding and misconceptions surrounding the disease and vaccines.
CoMO’s Global Conferences serve as a forum to air these concerns and to share ideas, important as our communications are largely digital throughout the rest of the year. It was a privilege to be in a room full of passionate individuals, many of whom spend countless hours saving lives by raising awareness despite considerable challenges and occasionally on top of careers, education, and/or caring responsibilities. Delegates, as well as our other members who were unable to attend the conference, often do this tireless work with one selfless aim in mind – to ensure no one else faces what they have had to face.
Case Studies: Member Achievements
While our schedule was jam-packed with lots of exciting new insights and workshops, CoMO’s work has always been informed by our members and so we made sure to highlight their voices, experiences and successes. Over the two day period, we heard nine case studies from our members to supplement our sessions, including from:
Care and Development Centre (CADEC, Nigeria): Rhoda Omorodion Omoile shared the perspective of a patient advocacy group on September’s meeting regarding the WHO’s initiative to Defeat Meningitis by 2030, detailing how global focus and coordination will help support her local activities.
Asociación Española contra la Meningitis (AEM, Spain): Santiago Garcia shared his experiences participating in CoMO and MRF’s partner project, the Strengthening Patient Voices project. The project aims to amplify the successes of three European patient advocacy groups and is one that CoMO hopes to be able to replicate in other regions. Read more about the project here.
Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF, UK): Chief Executive Vinny Smith shared MRF’s Meningitis Progress Tracker, an exciting tool for surveillance that uses modelled estimates to develop a global view on the burden of the disease. We’re excited to see how it develops as more data is included!
Meningitis B Action Project (USA): Alicia Stillman and Patti Wukovits, the founders of the Emily Stillman Foundation and the Kimberly Coffey Foundation respectively, joined forces to create the Meningitis B Action Project to raise awareness of meningococcal meningitis B so that people know of the risks and how to fully protect themselves. They shared their learnings since the advent of their coalition, including how they’ve been empowering young people and encouraging doctors to talk about this strain of meningitis - one that has been responsible for 100% of all U.S. college outbreaks since 2011.
Act for Meningitis (Ireland): Founder Siobhan Carroll shared the common misconceptions regarding vaccines in Ireland and how the Irish government are currently working to tackle the problem to ensure health for all.
Philippine Foundation for Vaccination and Immunisation Partners in Asia Pacific (PFV and IPAP, Philippines): Prof. Lulu Bravo and Ericka de Jesus detailed how public health can be jeopardised by misinformation campaigns and politicians’ desire to consolidate their power, examining the fallout of the dengvaxia misinformation campaign and the sharp fall in vaccine coverage.
Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada (MRFC): Greg Hum and Michael Redfearn shared their World Meningitis Day fundraiser and how they manage to consistently hold successful fundraisers by relying on a well thought out strategy.
Meningitis Centre Australia (MCA): Founder Bruce Langoulant presented on trustee recruitment and how MCA used their strong organisational identity and a future-oriented perspective to help decide who they should approach.
Group B Strep Support (GBSS): Founder and Chief Executive Jane Plumb shared how GBSS used social media to raise awareness of Group B Strep, an important cause of meningitis and sepsis. She detailed in particular, the support gained for a petition to the UK government, asking that they provide pregnant people with tests for Group B Strep to minimise the risk of infection. Find the petition here.
By giving our members the time to share updates on what their organisation has done and present key learnings from completed projects, it is our hope that delegates from the 2019 Global Conference will go on to create new projects, develop existing ones, or reach out for collaboration based on what they saw.
Looking Forward to the Future
Over the past year alone there have been many exciting developments in the fight against meningitis worldwide - Spain has seen the national introduction of the MenACWY vaccine and the inclusion of the MenB vaccine in certain regions; Peru is the first country in Latin America to freely provide the pneumococcal vaccine for people over the age of 65; Nigeria is reaching and protecting millions of children against measles and MenA; and New Zealand widened the access to the MenACWY vaccine to protect even more populations. It has been incredibly encouraging and inspiring to see how advocates across the world have contributed to change and we can't wait to see how our members further develop their organisations and activities to maximise their impact.
Sessions in the conference like the update on the WHO’s exciting initiative to Defeat Meningitis by 2030 helped inform members on the impact they've already had, as well as identifying further opportunities for collaboration. Attendees were very enthusiastic about getting more involved with advocacy on a global scale and as a result of the conference CoMO developed a plan to get our members in contact with their regional WHO offices. The invaluable face-to-face interaction provided by CoMO's conferences allows for these sorts of discussions to happen and for excitement around global projects to build, essential if local grassroots organisations are to participate.
A huge thank you to all of our conference delegates and speakers for attending CoMO’s Global Conference. Although our time together was short, we identified key priorities and goals that will enable us to empower our members throughout the year to better support our shared vision of a world free from meningitis.
A further thank you is due to the organisations who helped make this conference a reality – the Emily’s Dash Foundation, GSK, Sanofi Pasteur, and Pfizer. Their support directly allowed us to engage in global outreach and provide professional and relevant trainings for our members.
Nadia manages all communications and projects within CoMO, including World Meningitis Day. Please contact Nadia with any enquiries.